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Questions For: Joan Crowder 

Friends of the Elephant Seal member

NEW TIMES Why do the elephant seals all come to San Simeon?

CROWDER They actually didn’t start coming until 1990. The reason it’s a really good place is that babies don’t know how to swim when they’re born, and the mothers only nurse them for a month. They have to teach themselves how to swim, and they can go and practice how to swim and dive without anything being able to come in and get them like orcas and great white sharks. They are migratory as opposed to stationary; they do all of their feeding up by Canada and Alaska, but they have to have a place to meet to have their pups and mate.

NEW TIMES How many estimated elephant seals come annually?

CROWDER If they were all here at once, there would be about 17,000. But they are never all there at once; different age groups come at different times and for different reasons. We have about 4,000 pups born every year there.

NEW TIMES When is the best time of day to view the elephant seals?

CROWDER Any time of day. There’s also a live webcam where you can look at them from home. Right now there’s thousands of them out there.

NEW TIMES How close can you get to the elephant seals?

CROWDER Very close. You can get within a few feet because you’re on a boardwalk right above the beach. There’s one at each end of the parking lot. You’re probably within 20 feet of them.

NEW TIMES What’s a fun fact about the seals?

CROWDER The big males can get up to 5,000 pounds and over 15 feet long. The most interesting thing about them is, aside from the fact that they’re the second deepest-diving mammal at over a mile below surface, they all know when it’s their turn to come back here, where to go, etc. They’re just fascinating animals.

NEW TIMES Are the elephant seals friendly?

CROWDER No. Not at all. In fact, we’ve had people get bitten. The big males are very scary with huge canine teeth and are quite aggressive.

NEW TIMES What is a typical day in the life of an elephant seal?

CROWDER Depends on the time of year. In winter, the mothers are taking care of their babies all day long. Each big alpha male has probably 30 to 40 females, and his job is to keep all the other males away from his females. He expects to mate with every mate after they give birth to his pup. That’s this time of the year. In the summer when they’re here molting, they shed their skin and a typical thing would be that they just lay around and play. They like to play-fight.

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